- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 26, 2004

McALESTER, Okla. (AP) — Nearly a decade after the Oklahoma City bombing, Terry Nichols was found guilty of 161 state murder charges yesterday for helping carry out what was then the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil.

The verdicts came after five hours of deliberations. Nichols could get the death sentence he escaped when he was convicted in federal court in the 1990s.

Nichols was stone-faced and stared straight ahead at the judge as the verdicts were read, while his attorneys bowed their heads and clenched their hands together.

Prosecutors beamed, and family members hugged and congratulated them.

“I’m just so thrilled for these families,” said a tearful Diane Leonard, whose husband died in the bombing. “After nine years, the families who lost loved ones finally have justice.”

Oklahoma prosecutors brought the case with the goal of finally winning a death sentence against Nichols, who is serving a life term on federal charges in the 1995 bombing. The same 12-member jury now will determine Nichols’ fate on the state charges: life in prison or death by injection. The penalty phase will begin Tuesday and is expected to last four to six weeks.

Prosecutors contended Nichols worked hand in hand with former Army buddy Timothy McVeigh to acquire the ingredients and build the fuel-and-fertilizer bomb in a twisted plot to avenge the government siege in Waco, Texas, that left about 80 people dead exactly two years earlier.

The April 19, 1995, blast at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building killed 168 persons. McVeigh was executed in June 2001, and, until now, was the only person convicted of murder in the bombing. Nichols also was found guilty of first-degree arson and conspiracy.

“These two were partners, and their business was terrorism,” prosecutor Lou Keel said during opening statements.

Prosecutors brought a mountain of circumstantial evidence during a two-month trial that included testimony from about 250 witnesses. They said Nichols bought the explosive ammonium nitrate fertilizer used in the bombing and stole detonation cord, blasting caps and other explosives.

The defense contended that others helped McVeigh carry out the bombing and that Nichols was the fall guy for a wider conspiracy. Witnesses testified that they saw McVeigh with others, including a stocky, dark-haired man depicted in an FBI sketch and known only as John Doe No. 2, in the weeks before the bombing. Authorities later concluded that the mystery man was an Army private who had nothing to do with the bombing.

Defense attorneys declined comment after the verdict, citing a gag order.

“As much as I am champing at the bit, I am keeping my mouth shut,” said prosecutor Wes Lane.

The short deliberations contrasted with the federal trial, in which jurors deliberated for 41 hours over six days in 1997 before finding Nichols guilty of conspiracy and involuntary manslaughter in the deaths of eight law officers. Oklahoma prosecutors later charged Nichols with the deaths of the 160 other victims and one victim’s fetus.

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